Smoking, take two

smoking take  two

(Note: this is a rewrite of a blog I wrote back in 2011, with maybe a few updates, in the light of recent events.)



Both my parents smoked. I have distinct memories of sitting in the front seat of our family car, with my father in the driver’s seat on my left and my mother sitting to my right, both of them puffing away, the ashtray overflowing. I couldn’t breathe. I finally spoke up about it when I was about nine or ten years, and it actually inspired my mother to quit smoking.



This, however, didn’t stop me from taking up the habit myself. I got a free sample of Lucky Strikes at Fenway Park in 1983; I smoked one or two of them; soon after I was in Morocco, and smoking a pack a day; soon after that I was in Tunisia and smoking two packs a day.



I kept this up until 1998. Remembering the family proclivity for cancer, I resolved to quite when I was forty, and I managed it, just a few months shy of my forty-first birthday.



I have been reasonably healthy on and off since.



And now, fifteen years later, I discover that I have throat cancer, the main risk factor for which is – ahem – smoking.



Go figure.



I freely acknowledge that it’s my own fault. I knew there were bad genes on both sides of the family, and I knew that smoking could only be bad for me. But I kept it up for fourteen years.



Foolish, naturally. Most of those fourteen years between ’84 and ‘98, I was just smoking out of habit; I even (as do most smokers) kept it up while I was sick with colds and the flu. I even smoked at meals. I was smelly and utterly obnoxious, and probably nearly burned myself to death more than once. I realize that now.



But I remember one beautiful morning in Tunis, before I developed my two-pack-a-day habit. I left the house around 8am, bought a pack of local cigarettes, lit up, and –



That first puff was heaven.



So it wasn’t all bad.



But it probably wasn’t worth getting cancer for.




Both my parents smoked. My father smoked almost right up to the time he died of lung cancer. My mother quit in the 1960s, but she had a ferocious Sen-Sen / Life Savers habit for the rest of her life.



As a kid I used to sit in the front seat of the car, between my father in the driver’s seat and my mother on the other side. They both blew smoke in my face. I stared straight ahead into the overflowing ashtray and the cigarette lighter (both of which sort of fascinated me).



Despite all this, I never had any desire to smoke, until my boss and his wife took me to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park back in the early 1980s. Someone outside the park was giving away free packs of Lucky Strikes (get it? strike? baseball?). I took a pack home with me and put it in a drawer.  I smoked one finally, but I didn’t much care for it. Then I tried some of those noxious “Black & Mild” cigarillos that taste like the tobacco equivalent of flavored vodka.



Obviously, as you can tell, it was preying on my mind.



Soon after, in the Peace Corps, I discovered that everyone in North Africa smoked all the time.


I was up to two packs a day in no time. In Morocco, I smoked Koutoubia cigarettes. When I moved to Tunisia, I discovered Vingt-Mars cigarettes. Also Cristal. Also Koaqib, which tasted great, but made me cough like a TB patient. (I found out later they had snuff in them, which evidently liquefies when you smoke it, and oozes through your lungs like asphalt.)



And why?  Because it was calming.  Because it was a little moment of relaxation during the day.  Because the smoke was strangely soothing.  



I came back to the USA in 1987, still smoking two packs a day (now Benson & Hedges 100s Lights). This went on for another ten years.



Did I mention that my father died of lung cancer? Also my uncle Claude? Also a couple of other relatives?



I knew I stank of smoke. I knew that I was a fire hazard. I didn’t much care. (Smokers don’t really care. It’s a strange state of mind.) But I’d made a promise to myself: I’d quit by the time I was forty.



In 1998, my forty-first year, I actually quit.



Even now, thirteen years later, I still dream about it. The dreams are strange: I find myself lighting a cigarette, and thinking: Oh no! If I smoke I’m hooked again! And I do, and I’m very disappointed with myself.



How very peculiar addiction is.



But I have a vivid memory of leaving the house on a lovely warm Tunis morning, and feeling the fresh air in my face, and lighting the first cigarette of the day.



And it was wonderful.




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